The Listening Bubble

Jane Madell
December 30, 2014

The Listening Bubble is an important concept for helping parents understand how far they can be from a child and have their child hear them clearly.

The size of the listening bubble depends on the degree of hearing loss and the use and quality of the technology. If a parent talks to the child while inside the listening bubble, the child will hear, learn and understand. If the parent is outside the bubble, the child will not hear, learn and understand. The listening bubble explains why a child may hear some of the time and not hear other times. It is critical that families understand the size of the listening bubble so they can understand how far away they need to be for as many hours of the day as possible.

A child with normal hearing will easily hear a parent talking at 20-30 feet away, and will be able to overhear conversation. A child with hearing loss will only hear at a distance of 20 feet if technology is appropriately fit and set. If the child is not hearing sufficiently well the negative effects of language and learning is clear.


Can We Make The Listening Bubble Bigger?

If a child has a very small bubble, what can we do to increase its size to provide access to more speech and language? If hearing aids or cochlear implants cannot provide a sufficiently large bubble, an FM system will increase the size of the bubble. In my view, FM systems should be considered even for very young children once they are moving on their own and are at a distance from things they need to hear.


What About the Listening Bubble in School?

Obviously listening in school is critical if a child is going to succeed. How big a listening bubble does a child need? We need to assume that everything that happens in school is important to hear. Children need to hear the teacher, but also need to hear the other children. Classroom discussion is a critical part of learning. FM systems are critical to school success. Teachers need to wear an FM microphone so the child will hear them, but how will the child with hearing loss hear other children in the classroom? Ideally, there will be two microphones in the classroom – a teacher’s mic and a pass-around mic. The pass-around mic is used by other children in the class so that the child with hearing loss can hear their comments and discussion. Each child in the classroom waits for the microphone before speaking.


What Do Children Need to Know About the Listening Bubble?

Children need to understand the concept of the listening bubble, and they need to understand what they are missing and what the effect of missing information is on learning. As children grow older, peer pressure may seem more important to them than learning. We need to help children with hearing loss understand that there are long-term negative effects from not learning. We also need to educate normal-hearing peers to help them understand the importance of hearing for all children and, hopefully, keep them from bullying children with hearing loss about the need for technology.

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  1. Dr. Madell;

    Re: The size of the listening bubble depends on the degree of hearing loss and the use and quality of the technology.

    The size of the listening bubble is affected by more than just hearing capability and assistive listening technology. Room acoustics and room noise play a very important part in the Signal to Noise equation (SNR). The size of the bubble is actually defined by SNR. In a room environment, it’s the “N” that plays the most havoc. And “N” has signal reverberation (acoustics) and noise as its sources. Maximizing the size of the listening bubble is achieved by good acoustic design to minimize the noise complemented by minimizing the acoustic distance of the signal, i.e. from the talker to the ear. In the case of a person with hearing loss using hearing devices, this is best accomplished through to use of a IEC60118-4:2006 compliant hearing loop system and an ANSI 3.22 compliant hearing aid telecoil system.

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